Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Point8 Blog: We don’t need another genius

Posted By on Tue, Aug 25, 2009 at 11:24 AM

During my mostly nomadic life spanning 3 continents, I have been called a lot of names, in many languages; however, “genius” hasn’t been one of them. So, as someone in his late 30s who has never before been accused of exceptional talent or intellect, I became quite uncomfortable when I was featured among a few other individuals (whose brilliance I do not question) in the August “Genius Issue” of Charlotte Magazine.

My problem is not with the content, but with the title of the feature. In fact, the issue is with the general tendency/habit in our culture and the media to elevate certain individuals, while paying little attention to the circumstances and forces that caused them to stand out. The spotlight is shined on a select few, while everything around that circle is darkened out. This “celebrity culture” has resulted in a very skewed reading of the cultural history — esp. since the last century. When history becomes a series of stories of individual glory, it inevitably leads to the over-valuation of the work of the acclaimed few, while most others — and often the medium itself — struggles for survival.

What is often ignored or forgotten is the fact that it is the genius of a culture, (or that of a certain group/school/commune), that is often epitomized in the work of an individual. There would have been no Picasso if early 20th century Paris wasn’t the home for a large bunch of artists bent on reinventing Western culture for a modern world. There wouldn’t be a Garcia Marquez if literature wasn’t a way of life for a large number of people in mid-century Latin America.

Therefore, in order for a city or region to produce great work and for that region to be attractive for creative individuals, what is needed is to build a community where artists are welcomed, encouraged and challenged. More attention needs to be paid in developing and sustaining such groups, because that is what really makes the place more livable and valuable, for both the artists as well as the larger community. The exceptional work and the creators that will eventually grow out of such a fertile field will be the bonus and not the objective of the efforts.

The story of Point8 — just the fact that a newcomer could start and grow such an organization in a few years — says far more about the Charlotte (art) community than it does about me. It also shows that there are so many dedicated, motivated and highly capable individuals here, almost all of them far more talented and smarter than I am, who are willing to spend great amounts of their time and effort for a cause that they believe in. That is what makes our forums worth attending. That is also what makes it possible for a small informal group of people to organize events of relatively large scale and reach.

So, to be fair, and more importantly, not to be a thankless bastard (as I really appreciate the recognition for Point8), most of the other individuals featured in Charlotte Magazine that I happen to know (like Mark, Tom, Carlos, David, the CLT Blog guys …) are community-builders — people who have managed to bring together and tap into the brilliance of others. I certainly am honored, and rather undeserving, to be in that company. And Rick Thurmond and his team at the magazine certainly need to be given the due credit for compiling such a list.

Apparently T. Boone Pickens likes to say that “A fool with a plan can outsmart a genius with no plan.” Now that I can relate to. Maybe another three years the Charlotte Magazine can have a special issue featuring “Fools With Plans.”

But I guess that might not sound good on the cover.

— Manoj P Kesavan

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